How do subsidized lunches hurt cities?

If you help us build the tools that destroy democracies, the least we can do is buy you a sandwich.

What was once a simple perk is suddenly a political statement, at least as framed by city supervisors in this piece on banning corporate free lunch policies.

“These tech companies have decided to leave their suburban campuses because their employees want to be in the city, and yet the irony is, they come to the city and are creating isolated, walled-off campuses,” said Aaron Peskin, a city supervisor who is co-sponsoring the bill with Ahsha Safaí. “This is not against these folks, it’s for them. It’s to integrate them into the community.”

“We gave huge tax breaks to revitalize neighborhoods,” Mr. Peskin said. “But instead, they’re all walled into their tech palaces.”

City lawmakers should definitely think of creative ways to ensure economic prosperity radiates outward from the biggest companies in town. Employees, rightfully, wonder if they’re at the losing end here.

How real is the threat of corporate subsidized lunches to the city?

What impact might this sort of policy actually have on local restaurants?

What unintended consequences might make this backfire?

How should we regulate how corporations use our online data?

Great, now everyone knows you’re a dog on the internet.

One of the greats when it comes to thinking about where technology meets humanity, Paul Ford writes in Businessweek that maybe we need a Digital Protection Agency, much like we have (or at least, used to have) an Environmental Protection Agency. He even lays out a few potential roles it could play:

Lots of helpful information, plenty of infographics, a way to track just how badly you’ve been screwed, and, ideally, some teeth—the DPA needs to be able to impose fines. I’m sure there’d be some fuss and opposition, but, come on. The giants have so much money it would hardly matter.

And that might barely scratch the surface of what we need, or will need in the years to come.

What regulations would help sort out the mess that’s become of the internet in the hands of the big power players?

What corporations would suffer the most if we did? What would the biggest benefits be?

What are the biggest changes, or sacrifices, we’d have to make to ensure they work?


What role should corporations play in creating social change?

Heroes they’re not. But when profits and progressive policies align… POW!

Tech companies come out against restrictive immigration laws. Disappointed CEOs abandon their seats on a national business council as the government walks away from climate accords. The normally corrupt NCAA moves a basketball tournament from a state looking to impose discriminatory bathroom laws.

More recently, large retailers have decided — of their own accord, without any law imposed upon them — to raise age minimums and stop selling military-style assault rifles. Even on a micro scale, after incidents like Charlottesville, employers have fired people after being notified of those employees’ hateful online speech.

To be fair, it’s not all rosy. Some businesses have fought for their right not to provide birth control as part of employee health insurance, or their right not to serve LGBT customers. And of course, there’s Citizens United.

But the trend does seem to be toward (most) companies coming down on the side of (mostly) progressive issues. In part, as this article reminds us, because:

Politics is competitive, but the competition is constrained—by time (e.g., elections only happen every two, four, or six years), by geography (e.g., the gerrymandering of districts), and by partisanship, in which every issue often boils down to “the other side is worse.” Many companies cannot rely on time, geography, or negative advertising to save them. Every week is a primary for a consumer brand; the global nature of business exposes companies to more rivals; and no company can thrive by making nothing and investing exclusively in hostile marketing. “Politicians assume they can wait out the outrage, but national companies have to respond to the immediacy of demand.”

So what role can corporations play in creating social change? Should they be doing this more, or less?

What issues are they best suited to affect? What issues do we want them to stay out of completely?

What pressures can people put on them to be better “citizens”?

Should progressives push for more corporate expansion in red states?

Amazon hq2 map

Above: list of cities where houses “with good schools, but you know, still near cool restaurants” are about to get annoyingly expensive.

This week, Amazon announced its shortlist of cities being considered for “HQ2”, their second giant corporate facility bringing tens of thousands of supposedly good-paying tech jobs.

Plenty can be argued about the vast tax incentives being given away to one of the richest businesses around, the propriety of a private company making municipalities grovel to be blessed with precious new-economy jobs — and we should have those conversations too!

But today I was struck by a more tangential thought about demographics. Several of these cities are in places that young, educated, progressive people (a.k.a. voters) are leaving in order to move to coastal urban centers that are already filled with other young progressive people like them — because that’s where the good jobs are. That migration is what’s throwing off the traditional balance of urban/rural, (a.k.a. progressive/conservative) in the states whose major cultural centers are on the decline due to industries shrinking or consolidating (particularly, say, Indiana or Ohio). One big company keeping more of those people in-state theoretically breeds other off-shoot companies, and helps keep the urban vs rural percentage in a state with only mid-size cities bluer.

Essentially, where Amazon places its second headquarters could literally swing a state, electorally.

Should progressive people be encouraging big companies to move jobs to red-to-purple states to drive more urbanization in smaller US cities?

Does this give more power to corporations, or politicize economic decisions, in ways we should be wary of? Or is this all power and political will corporations have now, that we the people should exert more influence over?

Which apps manipulate you the most?


"I just HAVE to know which of my weird relatives thought that dog photo was cute."

“I just HAVE to know which of my weird relatives thought that dog photo was cute.”


This Medium post from a former Google “Product Philosopher” (a weirdly pretentious title to be sure, but once you get past that he has a lot of smart things to say) on “How Technology Hijacks People’s Minds” is very much worth the 15 minutes it takes to read.

In it, he covers a handful of ways the web and mobile apps are designed to manipulate your choices and play on our human psychological weaknesses to keep you using them, or do what they want you to do vs what you may actually want to do, mostly without you even noticing.

A few examples: using Yelp to find a place to go after a movie will probably lead you to a bar or restaurant to spend more money, when a park bench could do perfectly fine. Notifications just vague enough to pull you back into apps for very little information, which leads to more news feed scrolling. Netflix autoplaying the next episode of a series. Even the basic principle of a menu forcing a choice between a few options they’d prefer you to take. Super interesting stuff we probably don’t think about much (*begin conspiracy voice*) because that’s exactly what they want.


Which apps or website do you think manipulates your choices or steals your time the most?


How aware are you of this as it happens?


What, if anything, do you do to combat these designed manipulations?